Our 2 conceptions of work: work as toil vs. work as performance

Yesterday, I wrote about the three ways of making a living, and I still have many implications to spell out. Today, I set this subject off to the side and turn to a related topic, this being our conceptions of work.

I believe that there are only two conceptions that vie and belie each other, that each has been with us roughly since the beginning of human history, and, what is more, that they are in competition with each other in the modern age. I will argue further that although the first conception is more prominent, it is also mistaken. In contrast, the second conception, though rarer, is actually in stride with human excellence.

The first conception is that work is toil to be endured. Evidence for the existence of this conception can be found, already in the form of common sense, in the Book of Genesis where, as punishment, God tells Adam that he shall spend his days toiling in the field while Eve shall be burdened with the labors of childbirth. My (very) speculative thesis is that this idea of work as toil coincides with the birth of agriculture 10,000 years and so ago. It is not for nothing that aristocrats in many early heroic societies tended to distinguish between leisure and warfare (their noble pursuits) and animal husbandry, farming, artisanship, and slavery (the plebs’ various fates).

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The only 3 ways of making a living: Reflections on sustaining life

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in how I think about economic relationships when these are understood in the most basic terms possible. The occasion for my thinking about this question is my upcoming fall course, ‘The Good Life and Sustaining Life,’ at Kaos Pilots. There are three principal questions that make up the course I’ll be teaching:

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Plenitude: The Romantic feeling of joy

Against the postmodern view that the aim of art is to desecrate what is higher, to transgress sacred boundaries, or to disrupt the status quo, I posit that contemplative art glorifies while active art makes what is more plentiful. The tradition espousing the fullness of being is, of course, Romanticism.

For all his bluster against Romanticism as a form of decadence, Nietzsche certainly picked up one motif less (or so I suspect) from the scene of Greek orgy and more from his Romantic predecessors. In one of his final works, Twilight of the Idols, he writes effulgently of that ‘overflowing feeling of life,’ that ‘affirmation of life,’ the ‘eternal joy of becoming’ which he associates with Dionysus. In a Dionysian view of life as art,

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Rejecting art as transgression

It was about five years ago, in 2009, that Roger Scruton’s essay, ‘Beauty and Desecration,’ appeared in City Journal. What is remarkable about the essay is that we had nearly forgotten that art was, until quite recently, not at all concerned with the transgressive and provocative. In fact, it is only after 1930, according to Scruton, that the view that the purpose of art is to desecrate won out and is now taken to be common sense in the art world.

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Envy and admiration: Some important remarks about higher forms of life

1. Now more clearly than before, it occurs to me that all higher forms of life will require renunciation. At the moment of severance, the renunciant points to the lower, gives it a name, and frees himself from its hold. As Hadot shows in his work on ancient philosophy, the ancient philosopher must sever himself from ‘everyday consciousness’; Sloterdijk, in his work on Nietzsche for whom living extraordinarily and daringly was the ‘arrow’ of life, points to ‘ordinary life’; social entrepreneurs will point to greedy capitalism; the Romantic artist of plenitude to the bourgeoisie; the warrior to the hedonist governed by his appetites; etc. In sum, the lower serves its purpose if it can, at the outset, be that from which I sever myself.

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